In days gone past, when Windows contained panes of glass and a mouse was furry and ate cheese, hard drive partitions were something you only messed with if you were pretty technical and usually could only be altered by formatting the drive completely and starting again, wiping all the data in the process.
Over time a few tools have arisen to help more easily deal with partitions, Partition Magic being one of the most well known. Another player in this field is Easeus, a data recovery specialist who developed Partition Master.
Currently on version 3.5, the Home Edition is free to download and use; perfect for my requirements.
For some reason many laptop manufacturers split the hard drive into two logical, equal sized partitions when setting up the machine, ideally to try and keep the data and the applications separate. Of course most users don't realise this and especially with the Windows My Documents folder set on the C: Drive, you invariably end up with one partition bursting at the seams and the other emptier than Paris Hilton's head.
This is precisely the situation my dad recently found himself in, and being 'the tech guy' in my family I was asked to sort it out.
Getting up and running with Easeus Partition Master was a simple process of downloading the 8.81MB install file, available on a number of popular download sites, and running through the run-of-the-mill installation process.
Once you fire up the application you are presented with a simple graphical interface showing the status of the various drives and their associated partitions connected to the PC. One thing we couldn't find was any kind of refresh option, so if you make any changes such as copying files around or adding or removing another drive you have to exit and restart the program for the changes to be reflected.
From here you are given a number of different possibilities on a drive and a partition level.
At the top level you can obtain data about the drives and there are options to copy the entire drive or delete all the partitions on a particular hard drive.
On a partition level there are options to Resize or Move, Copy, Create, Delete, Explore, Label or Format the data in that partition. There are also some advanced options to change the drive letter, convert the file system, hide the partition, check it for errors or set it as the active partition. Where appropriate Partition Master allows you to create bootable disks as well, ideal when changing primary hard drives or creating a bootable external disk.
In this particular case, what I wanted to do was essentially merge the two partitions. The best way to do this is to empty the D: Drive of any data, copy it off to the C: Drive or to another source if the that doesn't have enough space, and then delete the D: Drive and resize the C: Drive to take up the entire hard drive space.
Incidentally, when deleting the partition, Partition Master provides the option of destroying the data as well, which wipes the partition sectors as well - while this is probably overkill for many users, this is good for businesses trying to make sure the data is unrecoverable.
One particularly nice feature is that Partition doesn't perform these actions straight away, instead it queues them up and then executes them in a batch process. This allows you to experiment with various options before committing yourself. In my particular case here, it also allowed me to queue up the partition deletion and resize it as a single process, saving time and extra reboots of the PC.
Even with a straightforward and simple interface like Partition Magic, messing about with a hard drive at this level can possibly mean the loss of all the data should something go wrong, so it is advised to back up information when performing these tasks.
These sorts of changes can't be done with Windows running, so once hitting the 'Apply' button, the laptop rebooted and the requested actions got underway.
Deleting the partition took no time at all, but expanding the primary logical drive from 17GB to 35GB took around four minutes to complete the process. Pretty quick in this case, but if you have a very large drive that you're resizing this is probably a good time to go do something else.
Once completed, the machine rebooted itself again and Windows booted perfectly happily, with just a single much larger C: Drive and no D: Drive remaining. After an operation like this I would recommend defragmenting the drive in order to help optimise the new layout and get the data in order.
I only looked at a slice of what Partition Master can do, but this is going to be one of the most common uses of the program, along with doing a full copy of data between drives or partitions for cloning or backup.
For our purposes, Partition Magic worked perfectly with the entire process taking less than an hour. The interface was simple and easy to understand, the graphics gave a good visual impression of the state of the various drives and the associated partitions, and there was plenty of help at hand to explain most of the features.
It would have been great if there was some kind of 'partition merge' option, however even if it could be done it would almost certainly be a very long process as essentially the system would have to incrementally shrink one partition, grow the other one, copy some data between the two, wash, rinse and repeat. Depending on how full both partitions are, this would be not only very complex, but the probability of some or all of the data being lost or corrupted is very high.
The convert option may also prove very useful to some who wish to upgrade from the old FAT32 file system to the more reliable and compatible NTFS.
Our only other real gripe is that the home edition should ideally be a standalone program. Given that the majority of users are going to be in a similar to position where they need it to perform one particular task and then nothing else - rather than having to install it, perform the needed operation and then have to uninstall it, if Easeus made Partition Master able to simply run without having to be installed it would make more sense. This would also allow engineers or 'the tech guy' in the family to keep a copy on a flash drive and use it to easily fix several PCs.
Author: Ian Williams
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